Monday, November 17, 2008

The first black president

So we won. After all the campaigning, uncertainty, waiting and early voting it seemed that, once it was all over, the campaign was just some dream. And in a way, I still can't believe Obama is really going to be the next president of the USA. I guess it will take until his inauguration before I am truly convinced about this historic fact.
For historic it is. Because of the change that really is necessary - a different defense policy, a different economic policy, a different energy-policy, a different foreign relations policy - but I guess most of all because of the fact that Obama is not white. That's a very great and a very sad thing at the same time. Why is it so special that the US citizens elect a black president? I heard a comment that "this is finally the end of the master-slave relationship", finally a black man can rule the country. Many people say that Obama is an example of black emancipation, showing that minorities can really be successful. But to me it sounds almost like an excuse. Just looking around me at university makes it clear that Caucasians still get a higher education, live in better neighborhoods, earn more money and have higher positions. Obama is an extraordinary exception, and that's why it's so special.
And at the same time, ethnical/racial differences seem to be more accepted here than in Europe. A while ago I saw some documentary on Muslims in the UK and in Spain. This movie, "The other threat" shows how many Europeans just don't want to accept Muslims into their society, even if they perfectly adapt. I think the situation in the Netherlands is very similar, but at the same time racial differences really don't matter. To me it's strange to ask someone for his/her racial background, but here in the US it's not uncommon to see such questions on official (application) documents. It seems that here in the US, the racial background of people does matter, but the differences are regarded as an inherent characteristic of this immigrant's society. Because everybody is different, the differences seem to be regarded with less suspicion. At the same time, there seems to be more segregation here than in Europe. In the Netherlands there are also black neighborhoods, black schools and black bars, but that's rather the exception than the rule. Here, it seems to be the inverse. Lately I was at a bar in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in DC, but the bar was mainly filled with Caucasian youth.
But the differences really struck me when I saw the differences between downtown DC and some residential neighborhoods, or downtown New York and Queens and Harlem. The big, beautiful, expensive office buildings, fashion boutiques and upscale restaurants seem to be reserved for rich white people, while the biggest part of the black population lives in ugly, old apartment buildings, working as cleaners and security guards and eating in Chinese take-out restaurants. And at the same time everybody is chasing that American dream: to work, earn money and become successful. At least Obama made it. And while there seems to be much inequality here, most people come to the United States because of its many opportunities. So I guess it's not perfect, but still a lot better than most other countries.